There are a couple of interesting things to watch here.
BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China said on Friday it would not stand for violations of its territorial waters in the name of freedom of navigation, as the United States considers sailing warships close to China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.
A U.S. defense official told Reuters on Thursday the United States was considering sending ships to waters inside the 12-nautical-mile zones that China claims as territory around islands it has built in the Spratly chain.
Western media reports quoted U.S. officials as saying the action could take place within a matter of days, but awaited a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Harry Harris, declined to say on Friday whether the United States would carry out the plan. But he made clear it was an option he had presented to Obama and said the United States must carry out freedom of navigation patrols throughout the Asia-Pacific.
First, it is odd that an Admiral would tell people what options he had presented to the president. That paints the president into a corner and borders on insubordination. The admiral is essentially telling the world that he wants to do the patrol and it will be the president’s fault if we surrender that piece of the sea to the Chinese.
Second, odds are we will surrender that part of the sea to the Chinese because that’s just what we do nowadays. Think of the precedent… if a nation builds an island and claims the 12 nautical miles around it as its territorial waters, that’s roughly 450 square miles of sea – and everything underneath it – that becomes national territory. What a great way for a nation to claim natural resources under the sea and control the flow of international shipping. If this works for the Chinese, expect to see other nations building tiny specs of new territory in inconvenient places.